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Kirtland air show to feature Thunderbirds, old warplanes

Air Force Lt. Col. Amanda Phlegar and Maj. Kevin Pieper, who are open house directors for the Kirtland Air and Space Fiesta, stand near C-130s that will be on display during the May 18 event. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Air Force Lt. Col. Amanda Phlegar and Maj. Kevin Pieper, who are open house directors for the Kirtland Air and Space Fiesta, stand near C-130s that will be on display during the May 18 event. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE – Kevin Pieper used to look in wonder at aircraft at a World War II museum when he was a kid.

That’s one reason the aircraft from that era still hold a place in the heart of the Air Force major, who will play a key role in next month’s Kirtland Air and Space Fiesta.

“I always enjoy watching those historical aircraft fly,” Pieper said. “I even enjoy just the static displays.”

Area residents will get the chance to see some of the World War II planes fly again at the air show May 18 at the base, along with the Thunderbirds and modern military aircraft.

“We’re expecting an F-35,” said Pieper, who as deputy open house director for the show will be involved in air operations. “We’re expecting World War II aircraft, B-17s, a B-25 and the TBM Avenger, which was flown by the late President George H.W. Bush. We have our local aircraft from the 58th Special Operations Wing – C-130s as well as helicopters and CV-22s. They are all going to be giving a capability demonstration to show what this local wing can do.”

“The big one is going to be the Thunderbirds,” Pieper said. “They’re going to put on a pretty awesome show.”

“The Thunderbirds will be doing a thrilling, high-speed 30- to 35-minute aerobatics show,” said Lt. Col Amanda Phlegar, the open house director for the fiesta. She said the public can “expect a diverse open house.”

The Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue parachute team will also do a jump demonstration. Local acts will also be part of the show. The public will get the chance to have photos made with static aircraft and talk to combat veterans, Phlegar said.

She also said STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) displays will be featured at one of the hangars. Phlegar hopes the aircraft, the demonstrations and STEM displays will capture the imagination of kids attending the air show, much as the World War II aircraft did for Pieper.

“What we really want to do is get some of the young folks in the community who are interested in those areas to be able to see some hands-on displays,” Phlegar said. “There are going to be options for kids of all ages and adults to look at. We’d like to get some of those folks who are interested in science to see if they would be interested in the Air Force, to see if we can get middle schoolers and high schoolers interested in joining the Air Force.”

Admission to the show is free. Gates will open at 9 a.m., with the opening ceremony at 10:35 a.m. Phlegar said the Thunderbirds are expected to perform between 3 and 3:30 p.m.

On-base parking and free shuttles from base parking to the event will be available to the public.

Shuttle bus service from the designated parking lots will run continuously from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to the air show entrance.

Guests without a base (Department of Defense/Department of Energy) ID card must enter through the Eubank Gate. There will also be open parking spots south of the VA/Kirtland hospital near Bullhead Park. The shuttle bus service to the event will be unavailable after 2:30 p.m., though the return shuttle bus service will be available all day.

People with handicap parking placards may enter through the Kirtland (contractors’) Gate, where they will be directed to handicap parking near the airfield.

Ridesharing services, including Uber and Lyft, will take riders directly through the Truman Gate to the air show event site. People can also be picked up in the same area when they are ready to depart. Also, only DOD/DOE ID card holders may enter through the Truman Gate. Upon entry, drivers will be directed to the designated parking area.

“We really want to encourage the public to use rideshare, like Uber and Lyft, just to cut down on the traffic and congestion,” Phlegar said.

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